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APRIL 1, 1991 

(c) Copyright Julie Wilson. All rights reserved. 
No part of this thesis may be reproduced, stored 
in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form 
or by any means without the written permission of 
the author. 

Mother, I learned to lie to you 
in the early morning of my life. 

When women flooded my hands like icy waters 
lies were my shelter. 

When women blew across my body like storm wind! 
lies were my shelter. 

When women struck my heart like lightning 
lies were my shelter. 

Mother, I learned to lie to you 
lies were my shelter 
in the early morning 
of my life. 

"Shelter," Julie Wilson, 1990 


e u 


Preface 5 

Introduction 7 

Part I — Passing 16 

Part II — Assimilation 28 

Part III — Internalized Oppression 37 

Conclusion .......... 47 

Appendix I — Origin of the Idea 52 

Appendix II — Methodology 53 

Appendix III — Survey of White, Working Class Lesbians . . 56 

Notes 62 

Index 71 

Bibliography (attached) 


All my love to my mother Elmerta Mae Wilson, my grandmother 
Ida Elizabeth Gfeller, my brother Ronald Duane Wilson, the memory 
of my father Thomas Dwight Wilson , and every other member of my 
extended family. May laughter always fill our hearts and homes. 

Warmest, sincerest, and most enthusiastic thanks to The 
Reverend Dr. I. Carter Heyward and The Reverend Dr. Katie 6. 
Cannon for the helpful guidance and lively erons (#) they 
supplied throughout this project. 

With special appreciation for Lee Ann Hopkins., other 
ecstatic yippees! and thank yous ! go to the following folks who 
directly supported my thesis work: Evelyn Ashford, Norene 
Carter, Sharon K. Coliinge, Melissa Cooper, Carol DeFabio, Judith 
Dennis, Episcopal Divinity School Faculty, Feminist Liberation 
Theology Committee, FLT Curriculum Conference, David Graves, Meek 
Groot, Anne Frances Hutchinson, Mykel Johnson, Joanna Kadi, Pat 
Hawkins, Sherri Hostetler, Ceil Lavan , Sharon Lewis, Lesbian 
Issues Group, D. Ngozi Obi, Sue Phillips, Marjorie Sa'adah, Joan 
Sakalas, Jane Saracen, Sylvia Shirk, Jane Spickett, Mary Sykes, 
Maureen Wheat, Joann Vasconcel los , and the Working Class Women's 

* When stimulating and creative work is being done, "erons" s^re 
emitted . 


This master's thesis initiates a proposed, four part 
exploration of passing in the lives of white, working class 
lesbians. I posit that both class location and sexuality 
issues of survival in contemporary U.S. society — a society based 
on racism, classism, and heterosexism . The purpose of this 
thesis is to begin chapter one, which defines analytical 
constructs related to the issue of passing. 

I start research for the remaining three chapters fall of 
1991 in my PhD program at Emory University in Atlanta. The 
second chapter documents institutional constraints in the lives 
of white,, working class lesbians. Its purpose, as well, will be 
to illustrate ways these women have resisted oppression in their 
churches, schools, workplaces and the like. Chapter three asks 
the question , what is white, working class lesbian culture? 
Interviews and survey data will provide the resources for 
answering this question. The concluding chapter calls for 
collective action; it raises up the white ? working class lesbian 
"ethic of good will." With this ethic as a constructive guide, 
chapter four proposes life-affirming strategies and sets 
strategic priorities for survival in, and transformation of, a 
hostile world. 

I consider this project critically important, not only for 
my own survival as a white ? working class lesbian, but 
particularly as I see its relationship to the state of 
contemporary U.S. society. Our most recent national crisis (the 
Gulf war) glaringly exposes the need for this kind of research — 


studies that determine which people (and how many of them) remain 
gagged by dominant attitudes and appearances touted as universal 
by an exploitative., thoroughly militarized social structure. 
Certainly, exploring the issue of passing proves a. challenging 
task in this context. 

I answer this challenge with a determination based on 
generations of silence. Janet Zandy, in her book Cal ling Home 
writes, "For working class women, writing or telling one's 
story, breaking the silence. . . is an individual act of 
courage." (*) I would add as well that such valor always springs 
forth from a community context. It requires much nurturing. 
Those of us who speak emerge from lovingly tended seeds, sown 
long ago. Certainly, no one person can speak, for any other, even 
within the same community. I speak for myself. I am white, 
working class, and lesbian. I respectfully heed the words of my 
Gramma, who told me many times, "bloom where you're planted." 

* Cal ling Home ; Working-Class Women ' s Writings , edited by Janet 
Zandy, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 
1990, page 6. 


In the nighttime on my Gramma's land 

comes the prayer to stand on 

when I'm reac hi n' up 

to take all the stars from this Kansas sky 

and throw them up so high 

they come down on this godforsaken kingdom 

like chunks of lead light. 1 

Social location , that process by which an individual or 
community places their experience in a. particular context, 
considers objectivity an unattainable ambition. Claiming to 
remain uninfluenced by emotion or personal prejudice sabotages 
serious discussion of contestable issues. The critical naming of 
social location settles one's feet on the earth; it brushes dust 
from the map of the world, exposing the positions and boundaries 
of identity; it acknowledges the fact that no human looks down on 
others from the lofty heights of a. heavenly sphere. Shaped by 
many factors, such as race, sex, class, and sexual orientation, 
social location is the site from which we gaze. Feminist 
ethicist Beverly W. Harrison says that this point of departure 
shapes our moral sensibilities. She stresses that social 
location "... involves naming structures that create the social 
privilege we possess as well as understanding how we have been 
victims . " 

As the cornerstone of U.S. society, the structure of white 
privi lege holds in place a weighty system of social, political, 
and economic domination, where whites benefit from advantages 
held as an exclusive right guaranteed by virtue of re.ce . This 
privilege manifests itself in laws and traditions protecting what 

dictatorial class of people consider their due. "White," 

sometimes termed "Caucasian," designates the primar 


racial /ethnic identity of those who rule western "civilization." 

Rarely an identifiable skin color ^ white guarantees life-long 

prerogatives; it presumes the self-determination of adulthood, as 

in the racist phrase "free, white, and over 21." White children 

are taught to believe that other people have racial /ethnic 

identities, and that they remain unsoiled by one. Peggy 

Mcintosh, in her article "White Privilege: Unpacking the 

Invisible Knapsack," explains this structure: 

. whites are carefully taught not to recognize 
white privilege. . . I have come to see white privilege 
as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can 
count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 
'meant' to remain oblivious. White privilege is like 
an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, 
maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and 
blank, checks. 3 

Like invisible ink, the concept "white" drips onto every page of 

every book and dissolves there — although white people may try to 

write over it, denying its existence, white saturates each 

thought, each supposedly objective argument. A thunderous 

silence, white need not speak to be heard. 

The frame of U.S. society, that skeletal structure designed 

to give shape or support, consists of a stratification of social 

classes by economic, political, and cultural characteristics, 

largely determined by virtue of birth. Stacked top to bottom, 

this hierarchical system insures that people in the upper 

echelons benefit from the labor and resources of people in the 

lower levels. CI ass ism — discrimination or prejudice based on 

class location — permeates this structure. 


The mythology of upward mobi 1 i ty operates as a linchpin to 

hold these layers in place. Upward mobility boasts that anyone 

in the U.S. who tries hard enough can rise from one social class 

to another. When an individual or community attempts to live out 

this myth (primarily to procure basic human rights), it becomes 

devastating ly clear that upward mobility obscures a rigidly 

fitted, classist structure. Although many people still cling to 

this myth, most U.S. families have not changed classes for 

centuries . 

No stronger example exists to illustrate the static nature 

of class location than the maternal branch of my own family. The 

Gfeller's trace their ancestry to one Burchard Geveller, who in 

1301 was living on his own farm three miles south of Walkringen, 

Switzerland. Six hundred and ninety (690) years later, my 

grandmother Ida Elisabeth Bfeller (wife of Louis) lives on her 

own farm as well, five miles northeast of Abilene, Kansas. 

Geographical location stands as the only significant change in 

nearly seven centuries — what better proof to suggest class 

stratification remains consistent over generations. 

In order to work effectively, the linchpin of upward 

mobility must be constructed from the strong stuff of dreams. 

Taking advantage of people's healthy desire for self-improvement, 

those few families who benefit from class privilege manufacture 

a white , midd le c lass ethos , which encourages the belief that all 

citizens hold membership in what is called "the middle class." 

This ethos propagandizes the principles of social equality 

inherent in the concept of "democracy," while it paradoxically 

insists that women ^re inferior to men and "white is right." A 

dangerous system of so-called "principles," it holds an unjust 
structure in place by obscuring racial, ethnic, and class 
location and by clouding class antagonism. 

It also encourages cul tural hegemony . An agenda 
representing the interests of those who set themselves up as 
rulers, cultural hegemony includes the imperative that "leaders" 
continue to benefit socially, politically, and economically from 
a power differential in U.S. society. These rewards depend upon 
the continued exploitation of workers, from whose labors the 
governing profit, thus deriving their leisure. Cultural 
hegemony touts itself as "common-sense," the natural order of 
things. It arrogantly co-opts the creative and intellectual 
energy of other cultures and twists it into a. noose of dominant 
behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, and institutions. 

Under a thick cloud of mystification, with their necks 

caught in the noose of cultural hegemony, stands the working 

c lass . Rarely do these folks identify as such. When they do, 

cultural hegemony is prepared to convince them they are actually 

middle class, or on their way up an easily scaled success ladder 

Unfortunately, because of the grueling reality of exploitative 

labor, working class vision is already obscured by a slumped 

posture; those who bear the heavy burden of producing goods and 

services remain bent over, crushed beneath the weight of other 

people riding on their backs. 

Undergirding the weighty structure of racist and classist 

exploitation, heterosexism provides critical support for U.S., 

cultural hegemony. Heterosexism is discrimination or prejudice 


based on sexual orientation and gender. Its foundational 

principle proclaims a distinction between women and men, assuming 

a differentiated instinct, intellect, and ability. Inherent in 

this dissimilarity is the presumption of male superiority. 

Heterosexism builds on this male/female dualism to then 
categorize sexual orientation. It considers heterosexual ity — 
characterized by attraction to the opposite sex — ethically and 
innately superior to lesbian and gay sexuality — which is 
characterized by attraction to the same sex. 

Perpetuated by U.S. institutions, heterosexism wields 
considerable power. The practice of marriage provides a useful 
illustration of this influence. Marriage law legitimates the 

1 1 

inion of a woman and man, yet considers same sex covenants 

illegal. This discriminatory law births other legislation, such 

as tax and insurance law, that favors heterosexual unions. 

However, because of the underlying agenda, of male supremacy, 

these unions do not guarantee equality for women. In a 

heterosexist context it is significant that, when married, the 

majority of women relinquish their "maiden name." Every marriage 

is a marriage of convenience for men; these unions a,re 
prearranged for their politial, economic, and social benefit. 


Supporting this hidden agenda, of male domination, the church 
provides a holy sanction for male/female joinings. Priests and 
ministers co-opt the power of the voice of God. They declare 
heterosexuals who live together out of wedlock, sinful. They 
demonize lesbian and gay sexuality and cast it out of their very 
midst. In this calculated way, institutions like the government 
and church work together to insidiously insure that men, and the 


heterosexual unions which benefit them, reign supreme. 

The monolithic institutions of racism, classism, and 

heterosexism forcefully shape our personal lives. For example, 

although white, I only began to understand the importance of 

identifying as such after hearing the question, "when did you 

first recognize the privilege of being white in this society?" 

Until then, I existed in the powerful bliss of ignorance. Never 

in my schooling did I hear "white" discussed as a racial /ethnic 

identity. Everywhere it seemed as though race was an 

inappropriate, impolite subject for discussion. I suppose this 

makes sense, because the hateful racism perpetuated by white 

people throughout history gives us much to conceal , much about 

which to be morally embarrassed and ashamed. Today, naming my 

whiteness operates as an ethical imperative; pretending to be 

objective, pretending to be "color-blind," I believe fatally 

flaws any analysis. 

Remembering the awakening of my working class consciousness 

causes pain; like a numb limb returning to life, the memory 

stings. Assigned in a class the task of designing my "dream 

job" — that work I would do if I had all the resources and money 

in the world — I drew a blank. Given one week to work on this 

project, I couldn't think of a thing. I also thought it didn't 

upset me; yet in class the next week, when everyone else outlined 

elaborate, imaginative plans, I felt ashamed and unintelligent. 

I still had written nothing. Twenty-seven years old at the time, 

I found out then how severely class injury stifles the creative, 

liberative imagination. When the limbs of my critical 


consciousness rose from sleep, I used them to uncover my heritage 
as a working class woman, a child of generations of farmers. 

I discovered my lesbian identity quite differently, at age 
sixteen. I'll never forget driving through a rainstorm down a 
Kansas highway and feeling a rush of strong, confused emotions 
about my best friend. Suddenly, my body registered a. sincere 
shock, and I thought to myself, "I love her," and knew this love 
was what women were supposed to feel for men. So, even though 
many years passed before I became involved with a woman, I held 
onto a clear sense of my lesbian sexuality. I'm not sure how I 
did this. My sexuality wasn't informed by words, because in the 
context of the early 1970' s, lesbian and gay people were 
invisible in Dickinson county, Kansas. No one said the words 
"gay" or "lesbian," even per j oratively . I learned what 
homophobia was from what remained unsaid. My lesbianism did not 
involve a conversion experience? since I never became involved 
with men, it. lacked the elements of transformation. Rather, it 

'i ) 

feels to me like I simply unfolded into my authentic self. 

My social location as white, working class, and lesbian 

keenly informs my experience of contemporary U.S. society. A 

tendency to pass, in terms of concealing my identity, stems from 

my fear of hostile institutions that manufacture a violent, 

propagandistic ethos of white, middle class superiority. This 

ethos incites and sanctions hostility against those of us who 

seem different; its existence supports my conviction that class 

status and sexual identity survival issues. 


To further substantiate my claim I undertake in this thesis 
the first step of a thorough sociohistorical analysis. This 
analysis aims to pull apart the enmeshed layers of the social and 
historical realities of being white, working class, and lesbian 
in contemporary U.S. society. 

I seek to reveal the deadly nature of institutions hostile 
to white, working class lesbians by examining the ways those of 
us with such a social location respond to them. Certainly, one 
primary way we respond is by playing the dangerous game of 
concealed identites called passing. A careful study of passing, 
then, must include an examination of our behaviors and attitudes. 
This examination must begin with a clear definition of passing, 
as well as other behaviors, attitudes, and/or institutions 
relating to passing. In this thesis, I define the issue of 
passing itself, and include two other issues for clarification of 
the sociohistorical reality of life as a white, working class 
lesbian — assimilation and internalized oppression. 

A thorough definition of passing is presented as the first 
section in this work. I look to literature, formative thinker 
Carter Heyward, and narratives from my survey on white, working 
class lesbians to flesh out this much used, but rarely defined, 
concept . 

I follow this definition of passing with a section on 
assimilation. This part of the thesis serves a dual purpose. 
Meant as a contrast to passing, it also operates as a further 
definition of assimilation in contemporary U.S. society. 
Exploration of this issue is fundamental to the study of passing. 
One reason is because many people use the words passing and 


assimilation interchangeably. I seek to point out the danger of 
this mis-naming. 

To further flesh out the study of passing, I examine in the 
last section one prevalent behavior in the white,, working class 
lesbian community — the internalization of oppression. The 
noxious fumes of oppression actually enter the body of white, 
working class lesbians and cause us to abuse ourselves and one 
another. Internalized oppression has much to do with the issue 
of passing . 

In the conclusion to this work I seek to outline the white, 
working class lesbian ethic, which I call an ethic of "good 
will." This xs a "working title" for this ethic, and as I 
continue this work in my PhD program I hope a more appropriate 
naming will emerge. I feel that an exploration of this ethic 
will give white, working class lesbians a resource for 
constructing productive, transformative survival strategies. 



Passing is a costume I put on and take off 
when I need it; sometimes it is hastily 
thrown on, and just enough to get by. Other 
times, however, it is a carefully constructed 
and made up facade. I can't seem to get passing 
out of my psychological , social and actual 
wardrobe . 1 

Those of us who socially locate as white, working class 
lesbians often demonstrate a. tendency to pass. We pretend to 
identify with governing cultural assumptions of white, middle 
class, and heterosexual behavior. Our passing is informed by 
the stark reality that class status and sexual identity are 
survival issues in contemporary U.S. society. 

The American Heritage Dictionary defines passing as "death." 
In common speech, this definition remains consistent; the word 
"passing" most often finds usage in euphemistic references to 
physical death, such as "passing on" and "passing away". The 
Random House Dictionary defines "passing" as, "to let go without 
notice; leave unconsidered; disregard; overlook; to cause or 
allow to go through or over a barrier." A Feminist Dictionary 
quotes Liz Stanley and Joan Nestle, who explain it as a survival 
strategy. They write, "Long used by Blacks and gays. . . 
passing may also refer to lesbians who pass for straight or to 
lesbians 'who look like men to the straight world'." 

The concept of passing originates in the African-American 
community, where lightness of skin often means survival in a 
eurocentric, white-supremacist world. Borrowed by other 
oppressed groups, such as the lesbian and gay community, this 
concept characterizes the experiences of marginalized people 


attempting to survive in U.S. society — a society that by all 
indications considers the ethos of white, middle class reality 



the norm. Like the carpenter's square (that L-shaped instrument 

for drawing and testing right angles), norms characterize those 

ethical standards, patterns, and models considered typica*l in 

contemporary U.S. society. Norms evaluate the individual's fit, 

constantly estimating one's ability to socially belong. 

In the novel entitled Passing , author Nella Larsen ' s 

exploration of racial passing in the 1920' s further describes the 

concept of passing through the lives of Clare Kendry and Irene 

Redfield. Both African-American women, Clare plays a dangerous 

game as she passes for white and marries a white man, and Irene 

lives with the fear her friend will be discovered. At one point 

in the novel, Irene visits Clare. Upon first meeting Clare's 

white husband, John Bel lew, Irene passes for white as well, and 

feels, "A faint sense of danger [brush] her, like the breath of a 

cold fog . " 

Bel lew's racism showers like hateful sparks throughout his 

conversation, and the particular irony that he is married to an 

African-American woman and doesn't know it is illustrated when 

Clare playfully asks him, "'What difference would it make if, 

after all these years, you were to find out that I was one or two 

per cent coloured?'" His answer confirms Irene's worst fears for 

Clare's future, "'I know you're no nigger, so it's all right. 

You can get as black, as you please as far as I'm concerned, since 

I know you're no nigger. I draw the line at that." 

The fact that John Bel lew cannot see people of color at all, 


even those in his own life, parallels the invisibility of 

lesbians in contemporary heterosexist society. May Barton, in 

her novel The Education of Harriet Hatfield , illustrates this 

invisibility and shows how it contributes to the concept of 

passing. The main character Harriet — a white, upper class 

lesbian — spends her life living comfortably in Chestnut Hill, an 

affluent suburb of Boston. A thirty-year relationship with her 

lover Vicky remains unacknowledged by her family or friends. She 

shatters this invisibility after the death of her lover, by 

opening a women's bookstore and coming out as a lesbian to 

herself, her family, old friends, and an often hostile public. 

When considering whether or not to disclose her lesbianism 

to her brother, Harriet thinks to herself, "The very idea makes 

me physically uncomfortable. . . My family had seemed to take 

for granted that Vicky and I were partners and had never asked an 

embarrassing question. And Vicky would have lied if they had 


probed. . ." In this way, Harriet and Vicky's lesbian 
relationship never challenges the dominant, heterosexist attitude 
in their white, upper class social setting. Their very 
invisibility informs their passing, and vice versa. When 
attempting to define passing, one must always look for its 
relationship to an invisibility that discounts lesbian lives. 

The way those who use passing weave together invisibility 
and illusion is well illustrated in the story of Ellen Craft and 
her husband William, who in 1848 used passing as a survival 
strategy to escape slavery. An African-American woman, Ellen 
passed as a white, male, invalid slaveowner on a journey from 
Georgia to Philadelphia. Her husband posed as her black, male 


slave. William speaks here of a particularly harrowing moment, 

when Ellen must quickly add another strategy to her passing 

repertoire in order to elude capture: 

As soon as the train had left the platform, 
[Ellen] looked round in the carriage, and was 
terror-stricken to find a Mr. Cray — an old 
friend of [her] master, who dined with the 
family the day before, and knew my wife from 
childhood — sitting on the same seat. . . [She] 
resolved to feign deafness as the only means 
of sel f-def ense . 10 

This story well demonstrates the risks involved in passing. 

Kore Archer, in an essay about this brave escape, elaborates, 

"And if their plan failed? They must have been well aware that 

Ellen's fair skin would fetch her master a. pretty price in the 

brothels of Natchez or New Orleans. At the very least, they 

risked never seeing each other again." What a cruel decision 

for two people to have to make! Passing never presupposes 

success; it always attempts to balance the assumptions of a 

dominant society that feed illusions with the hard realities of 

the costs of being uncloaked and punished. 

As shown through literature and oral history, different 
voices describe passing in different ways. Yet, a common story 
emerges, and it tells us that the extent to which passing is used 
always indicates the loss of power a person or community is 
suffering in relation to dominant norms. 

In her book Touching Our Strength : The Erotic as Power and 

the Love of God , Carter Hey ward discusses sexuality from a 

feminist liberation theology perspective. Heyward, a white, 

middle class, lesbian priest, mentions passing in this work. She 

admits, "In 1979, part of me still wanted to 'pass.' Today I am 


clear that I don't pass in relation to the norms of dominant 

political, theological, or psychological culture. . . Coming out 

moves me further, a day at a time, into the realization that I 

don't want to pass." 

An interview with Carter Heyward, specifically dealing with 

the matter of passing, points out the many serious complexities 

of this issue, even in the experience of a lesbian theologian who 

is out in her professional and personal lives. She says, "I 

define passing negatively, as . . . choosing to refuse to be who 

I am in a. public mode, and in that sense, refusing to embody the 

struggle for lesbian and gay justice. Passing is hiding. It's 

death. When I am not passing, when I am really out, I feel most 

al i ve . " 

She elaborates her definition like this, "When I'm passing, 

I know I'm not as alive. My passion is not being generated, my 

energy is not as accessible. My creativity is dulled. Passing 

cuts and diminishes my own capacity to be a creative theologian, 

a lively person." 

Heyward ' s comments support as well the fact that the concept 

of passing originates in the African-American community. 

"I first heard the term "passing" used in reference to black 

people passing as white. Growing up in the South. . . I remember 

hearing about it. I didn't know anybody who did it. That was 

part of the phenomenon of course, you didn't know who passed. 

Passing was about secrecy, hiddenness, lying." 

This "not knowing" who is and is not passing contributes to 

the enforced invisibility of marginalized groups in the U.S. 


Lesbians certainly move invisibly, and Heyward asserts a. truth 
familiar to most lesbians, "In heterosexist patriarchy the 
assumption shared by most folks, 24 hours a day, is that we're 
not lesbians unless we are actually naming ourselves as such." 

Naming lesbianism a reality proves a difficult task even for 
the most out lesbian, and even in the most mundane of situations. 
When discussing trips out shopping at the grocery store, for 
example, Heyward admits, ". . . I'm aware of the fact that I tend 
not to do things that would necessarily draw attention to my 
being a lesbian, not snuggling up to my lover and holding her 
hand, for instance. That's not even a very conscious decision in 
the realm of public life. But it is nonetheless a decision, and 
so, in that sense I do pass for straight. . ." 

When asked about the gains and losses of passing, Heyward is 

quick to make it clear that not passing allows her a freedom of 

psychic and spiritual movement. She states, "It's very wonderful 

not to feel that I have to hide, or pull punches or . . . be 

careful in that sense." 

"Of course, coming out has involved some losses," admits 

Heyward, "I don't have a. lot of professional mobility, for 

example, and I don't have much professional credibility in the 

circles that I once really wanted to be affirmed in. . .[yet], I 


am deeply affirmed in other circles. I experience genuine 
gratitude for the work. I do, and that's very important to me." 

Finding professional affirmation proved challenging for 
Heyward. She expresses it this way, "It's been a long, slow, 
painful lesson for me, learning where my self-esteem is rooted, 
and how to value myself as a theologian." 

If coming out as a lesbian is indeed, as Heyward ultimately 
makes clear in her interview, well worth it, why then does- 
passing still remain so present in her life and the lives of 
other lesbians? Her answer expresses a sad and dangerous truth. 
She says: 

There's so much pressure being put on by the church 
and the larger society for people to be silent, to 
shut up and not be "out" about anything. To conform. 
To get in there and aa our duties. It really is very 
fascist. Dorothee Solle speaks of "christo-f ascism"20 
and that's right where we now: We're being asked 
to march in lock -step, and any of us who dare deviate, 
who dare to step to one side or the other. . . 
going to have to pay for it. 

The strength and urgency of Carter Heyward ' s voice makes it 
clear that passing must be added to the ethical canon of 
critical, contestable issues in contemporary U.S. society. 
Certainly, passing plays different roles in different lives; yet, 
it consistently contributes to the painful shape-shifting of 
individuals and communities struggling for survival under a siege 
of strictly measured,, dominating attitudes. 

As one of these struggling communities, white, working class 

lesbians often play along with the illusion of being middle class 

and heterosexual. When overbearing attitudes assume everyone 

shares this identity, anyone different feels pressure. Poet 

Audre Lorde explains that western eurocentric society will always 

handle human differences in one of three ways, "ignore it, and if 

that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or 

destroy it if we think it is subordinate." The harsh reality 

of this attitude creates an atmosphere where reactions to class 

location and sexuality become issues of survival. Hostile 

reactions foster an environment pressuring white, working class 
lesbians to pass. 

Violence against lesbians and gay men testifies to the fact 
that our lesbian sexuality threatens our very lives. In his book 
Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men , Gary Comstock analyzes 
thirty-two surveys having to do with violence targeted at lesbian 
and gay people. He draws tentative conclusions that speak 
dramatically about the risk of disclosing a gay or lesbian 

identity. He summarizes 

. slightly more than ha 1 f [my 

emphasis] of socially active lesbians and gay men 

u a 

experience some form of an ti-gay/ lesbian violence." 
Interestingly, he also finds that, "more women from lower— class 
backgrounds. . . fall within the general anti-gay/ lesbian 
violence category than do those from other class backgrounds." 

Cited as a primary motivation for passing, the fear of 
physical violence permeates the responses of ten women who 
participated in my study of white, working class lesbians. In 
this survey (that, incident ly, asked no direct questions about 
lesbian and gay violence), over and over women expressed concern 
that their lesbian identity would incite attack. One woman 
writes, "I feel most pressured to pass when I feel threatened — 
[my lover] and I took the pink triangle off the truck when we 
moved [ to a new neighborhood]." 

Another woman flatly states, "CI feel most motivated to 
pass] when I'm in danger — around mysogynist and homophobic men — I 
feel that it would encourage violence to be overtly lesbian." 

"The only situations where? I have found myself making any 
real attempt to pass were conversations being held in public 

places," states one woman, ". . . I do not experience 'the 
outside world" as a safe place, and therefore, I find it more 
threatening, especially with gay bashing on the increase." 

Interestingly, one woman who came out as a lesbian in 
college now passes at her workplace because of her fears of 
violence. She writes, "Nowadays, I feel more frightened about 
potential punishment for being a lesbian, so I don't come out as 
much at work . " 

Passing logically operates as a survival strategy. It plays 
a sheltering role in the lives of white, working class lesbians, 
as it protects those of us who live outside of middle class and 
heterosexual experience from storms of hatred and bigotry — that 
is, as long as we believably play act that we what we are 
not . 

Another kind of violence threatens those of us in working 
class communities. These noxious fumes infiltrate our lives. 
For example, many of us remember, as children, the terrible work- 
related accidents that happened sometimes to our parents, often 

to our relatives or neighbors. And these .accidents still 

happen . 

The suffocation of my uncle Kenny in the alfalfa mill; the 

crushed hip of my Grampa Gfeller (bedridden for twelve years from 

a tractor wreck); what Janet Zandy, in her essay "Labor Day" 

describes as the chemical burns on her father's body — these 

incidents herald a brutally clear message. Moving up socially, 

rising into the vocations of another class, becomes critical for 

the survival of working class people. This desire to, as my 


mother encourages, "move u.p and out," represents not a desire for 
status or material gain, but a striving for humane, healthy, safe 
work lives still denied to working class people in the U.S. 

The ten white, working class lesbians I surveyed mentioned 
situations where exploitative violence in the workplace led to 
illness or disability. One woman writes, "When I stop to 
consider that my father had a heart attack at age 49, I try to 
imagine what his working life must have been like. He worked in 
a factory until he retired at age 55. About 15 years after he 
started there, he was promoted to foreman. . . He never talked 
about his work, but there must have been a lot of stress in his 
life. . . I would guess that his rise to foreman was a stressful 
thing. " 

Certainly', disability is a state familiar to working class 
people. One woman writes, "My great grandmother was a 
domestic all her life. Her daughter was a domestic until she 
became disabled." These survivors of work-related accidents 
appear regularly as strong characters in our non-fiction 
narratives. Their presence touches our lives deeply. We pay 
close attention to the creative ways they overcome pain and 
suffering, for we know their strategies will someday become 



Since our tendency to pass performs such a primary role in 
the ways we live as white, working class lesbians, particularly 
in the ways we shift our reality to live that of someone else's, 
our community shares a concrete understanding that the disclosure 
of class location and sexuality are, in fact, always survival 
issues . 


In my survey of ten self-identified, white, working class 
lesbians, this assessment yields some strikingly similar 
attitudes about the role passing plays as survival tool. One 
example provides clarity — fitting in on the job. 

A woman describes her experience in business, "As a fat 
woman, I already have to be smarter, prettier, faster, and better 
than all my workmates. As a working class woman I also must be 
better educated, even though I went to a state school. . . Most 
of all, I find it beneficial to be well-read and erudite about 
pol i tics . " 

Another working class lesbian speaks candidly about her 
work, "I feel pressure to pass where people have power to control 
resources that I need, or where people can make decisions that 
affect my life. . . The economy is horrible and I wouldn't get 
another job soon if I were fired." 

A third woman admits to very similar feeling. She says, "I 
feel most pressured to pass. . . when I want something from 
someone — [that is] a job, approval (like from family), [or] 
money . " 

Women make less money than men for comparable work, and 
working class women in particular have fewer job options. "On 
the average, a woman with a 4-year college education earns as 
much as a man with an eighth-grade education," writes Diane 
Bchafter in the book Women , Power , and Pol icy : Towards the Year 


Consistently, fear of job loss and economic repraisal 

persist as a solid motivation for white, working class lesbian 

passing . 


Like a game of hide and seek, passing allows white, working 
class lesbians to dart back and forth between concealment and 
discovery;, as we try harder and harder to create safe places for 
ourselves in hostile surroundings. Yet unlike a game, passing 
actually provides no "home free" base we can run to. The 
American Heri taqe Dictionary says that to hide is, "to put or 
keep out of sight. . . to prevent the disclosure or recognition 
of. . . to avert (one's gaze) in shame or grief." These 
definitions succinctly describe what long ago flooded our 
community — a profound grief — the shared sorrow of those that must 
hide in order to survive. 



. . . and you. know it's true 

if you think about it 

that the minute they want another trucker, 

or dishwasher, or nursing home aide 

for "back breaking work" 

(that's what my Mom calls it) 

they won't Zca.rel how good you can act 
like you're middle class. . . 

don ' t forget it 

don ' t forget it 

if there's one thing you owe yourself 

it is not to forget this truth 


assimilation is a crock of shit 

We white, working class lesbians demonstrate a tendency to 
assimilate to ruling societal norms, in terms of taking on. the 
distinctive features of white, middle class, and heterosexist 
culture. We do this because of the fact that only individuals 
who become white, middle class, and heterosexual survive in 
contemporary U.S. society. 

The American Heritage Dictionary definition begins to 
explain the word "assimilation." Defined as, "the process 
whereby a group, as a minority or immigrant group gradually 
adopts the characteristics of another culture," assimilation 
takes on an active life. Unlike passing, which largely involves 
ways of masking and hiding, assimilation traps the individual 
self in an alien costume. 

Interestingly, many people use the word "assimilation" when 
they discuss passing. They speak as if these two words are 
interchangeable; and certainly, the concepts have much in common 
Yet crucial for our understanding is the realization that it is 


not the word "assimilation" which so closely relates to passing, 
but the word "assimulation . " Assimulation succinctly describes 
the impulse to feign, counterfeit, or simulate, and clearly 
operates as a useful synonym for passing. Confusing these 
definitions leads to an underestimation of the deadly power of 
assimi lation . 

Although the Paule Marshall novel Brown Gir 1 , Brownstones 
deals poignantly and primarily with the issue of internalized 
oppression, it tells the story of assimilation as well. Selina 
Boyce, daughter of Barbadian immigrants, grows up in Brooklyn in 
the 1950' s. She finds herself caught between the two worlds 
represented by her mother,, who contorts herself to begin the 
process of assimi latation , and her father, who refuses to abandon 
his Barbadian values. 

A driving force in the immigrant community, Selena's mother 
Silla leads a group of tightly knit, hard-working people fiercely 
carving a place in their new home. At a community business 
meeting in the neighborhood, one man expresses the sad but true 
message of assimilation, "We ain white yet. We ' s small timers I 
But we got our eye on the big time..." This single-minded 
desire to be successful on white supremacist turf operates as a 
lifeline for some Barbadians. 

However, an oppressive reality crushes characters who 
resist assimilation and refuse to grasp the lifeline of adopted 
values and ways. The characters Deighton Boyce, Selena's father, 
and Suggie Skeete, a kinswoman, both disobey the new rules in 
this "new world." Their actions lead to exile from B.n immigrant 
community discarding old values; such a rejection leads to 


Deighton's eventual suicide. 

Certainly, this story shows us how assimilation can tempt 
people with the sweet, material rewards of U.S. society and an 
avenue to a better life; yet it leaves a. bitter taste in the 
mouth when one realizes how great and terrible loom the 
sacrifices for survival . 

Sometimes the sacrifice for assimilation demands murder. In 
the short story "Desiree's Baby," by Kate Chopin, the reader 
meets a thoroughly assimilated man, Armand Aubigny. Never told 
by his adoptive, white parents that his mother is African- 
American, he lives life as a rich, white plantation owner. 

His marriage to Desiree, a white woman, results in the birth 

of a child. As the baby grows, Armand becomes more angry and 

withdrawn. He realises his child is not white, and this 

knowledge enrages him. Unaware of his heritage, he assumes 

Desiree to be a woman of color. He vents his fury on those 

people of color he holds captive. Chopin writes, "... the very 

spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his 

dealings with the slaves." 

As a testament to invisibility, Desiree does not even see 

her baby as different from any white child. Her ignorance 

resembles that of John Bel lew in the novel Passing , who remains 

oblivious to his wife Clare's African-American ancestry. When 

Desiree slowly begins to see her baby, "... the blood turn[s] 

like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gather[s] upon her 

face." It seems there exists no place in either of their lives 

for a child of color, even their own offspring — just as there 


exists no place for a woman of color in John Bel lew's life- This 

story chillingly exposes the white supremacist imperatives of 

U.S. society; for Armand then sends Desiree away from the 

plantation and she kills herself and the baby. 

Not until after her and the baby's death does he find a 

letter documenting his heritage. In it, his adoptive, white 

mother thanks God for Armand ' s ignorance. The story ends here, 

so the reader never discovers how or if Armand deals with this 

revelation . 

We do discover, however, the sinister way assimilation 

encourages genocide — Armand effectively wipes out his family 

bloodline. Unlike his unfortunate child, Armand ' s light skin 

color guaranteed survival. In this way assimilation transforms 

individuals and communities over generations. They become 

"whites" in a white supremacist culture, because only whites 

survive in such a world; and they knowingly and unknowingly 


murder their own unassimi lable children. 

Like a violent, bootstamp, the survival strategy of 

assimilation appears throughout the life and work of poet 

Adrienne Rich. She writes, "I feel the history of denial within 

me like an injury, a scar. For assimilation has affected my_ 

perceptions; those early lapses in meaning, those blanks, are 

with me sti 11." 

All of her identities — of which Jewish, lesbian, woman, and 

mother are only a few — struggle with this brutal U.S. imperative. 

This command issues the order to become heterosexual, think more 

like a man, observe christian rituals. Rich considers it life- 

threatening and elaborates: 


The pressure to assimilate says different things 
to different people: change your name, your accent, 
your nose; straighten or dye your hair; stay in the 
closet; pretend the Pilgrims were your fathers; 
become baptized as a christian; wear dangerously 
high heels, and starve yourself to look young, thin, 
and feminine; don't gesture with your hands; value 
elite European culture above all others; laugh at 
jokes about your own people; don't make trouble; 
defer to white men; smile when they take your 
picture; be ashamed of who you. are. 9 

Rich experienced this imperative early in life. Her 

grandparents encouraged her father to deny his Jewish heritage in 

order to succeed professionally. Rich writes that they, "sent 

their son into the dominant southern WASP culture to become an 

'exception' , to enter the professional class." As often 

happens to those who adopt alien values for survival, his 

experience reinforced an atmosphere of assimilation in their 

home j, so much so that Rich developed no clear sense of herself as 

Jewish . 

Certainly, her experience exemplifies how assimilation 

expends the original self. Rich's father believed, like his 

parents, "With enough excellence, you could presumably make it 

stop mattering that you. were Jewish. . . " He deliberately 

kept her ignorant of her heritage. She writes, "We — my sister, 

mother and I — were constantly urged to. . . assimilate with a 

world which might see us as too flamboyant." 

Rich resented this pressure to assimilate. When trying to 

understand her father's abandonment of his identity';, she posits,, 

"I wonder if that isn't one message of assimilation — of America. — 

that the unlucky or the unachieving want to pull you. backward, 

that to identify with them is to court downward mobility., lose 

the precious chance of passing, of token existence . " 

This token existence often provides the only chance for 

survival of the marginalized — at what price life' 7 ' Rich considers 

assimilation a cruel imperative, yet she acknowledges that choice 

is not part of this equation. She compassionately explains that, 

"Outsider is a condition which most people spend. . . great 

energy trying to deny or evade, through whatever kinds of 

assimilation or protective coloration they can manage." 

Rich understands the complex nature of assimilation very 
well. She warns, ". . . if you. unquestioning 1 y accept one 

piece of the culture that despises and fears you, you 

vulnerable to other pieces. . 

In this way assimilation 

feeds more prejudice and bigotry into an already deadly system. 

Rich makes it clear that the assimilated become bearers of a 

racist, classist, and heterosexist banner, demanding assimilation 

from the next wave of immigrants and from their family members. 

Rich says these acculturated members of U.S. society act as, 

"part of American's devouring plan in which the persecuted, 

called to assimilation, learn that the price is to enqage in 

persecution . " 

Assimilation also tortures dreams, which oppressed groups 

desperately need to water the liberative imagination. She says, 

". . . we unable to imagine a future because we deprived 

of the precious resource of knowing where we come from." 

Adrienne Rich's words powerfully trumpet a call to resist 

assimi lation . 

As a "minority" culture in the U.S., white, working class 

lesbians live under siege. In response to this onslaught of 

oppressions, we often sue comb to the amnesia of assimilation by 
adopting the values and mannerisms of middle class and 
heterosexist culture. We give in to this partial or total loss 
of memory because of our unconscious understanding that only when 
an individual absorbs a middle class and heterosexual ethos will 
she survive in contemporary U.S. society. This apprehension 
reinforces the loss of our individual and collective memories. 
Without these recollections our tendency to assimilate increases. 

Since only those individuals who obey the imperative to 
assimilate to middle class and heterosexual norms survive in 
contemporary U.S. society, those of us who claim working class 
and lesbian identities often mirror dominant ways of being. We 
demonstrate our obedience by taking on particular characteristics 
of middle class and heterosexist culture. For working class 
women, this may mean adopting middle-class speech patterns; for 
lesbians,, it may mean couching relationship-talk in male/female 
terms. This imitation of governing attributes stages a. dangerous 
theatre, however, because the fist of assimilation is a brutal 
director. It demands the transformation of our original flesh; 
eventually, we stare helplessly out from behind what is no longer 
a mask . 

We white, working class lesbians indeed have an inclination 
to assimilate to ruling standards in terms of adopting features 
exclusive to middle class and heterosexist culture. We strongly 
intuit the fact that only individuals who become middle class and 
heterosexual survive in contemporary U.S. society. 

The ten white, working class lesbians surveyed for this 


work expressed, through stories of their own lives, how this 
order to assimilate affects individuals and communities. 

The justifications for assimilation can be found in myths of 
upward mobility. This fiction is fed to working class children 

at a young age. 

throughout childhood,," one woman writes. 

"I got the (often unstated) message that I ought to be able to 
make it, get a good job and make lots of money when I grew up. 
In fourth grade, my teacher in school read us a Horatio Alger 
story. I was so moved by this story., that at age nine I decided 
to quit piano lessons (that my mother bartered for with a 
friend) , and get a paper route. . . to begin to move up in the 


world . " 

Certainly, this assimilation imperative is a racist one. 

One woman explains the way racism watchdogs immigrant communities 

and demands their complicity for survival. She writes, 

"Ethnically, my family was only one generation away on one side 

and two generations away on the other from 'the old country' as 

they said. My grandparents and parents were very conscious of 

ethnic and racial identities and had a definite hierarchy — they 

spoke in bigoted and racist terms daily. For some reason, I 

never liked it, never felt comfortable with it, and ultimately 

tried to figure out why hatred was so important a part of their 

lives. " 

And in so many ways, assimilation alienates us from our 
past. Working class lesbians who "move up" socially or 

professionally lose important ties. One white, working class 

lesbian speaks of the alienation of adopting values endemic to a 

dominant culture, "I've probably lost a connection with my past 

3 5 

which could be a source of security, comfort and add a richness 

to my life. " 

Encouragingly, there does seem to exist in working class 

lesbians a healthy resistance to assimilation, even when we know 

a new, middle class identity can "save" us. "It seems to me," 

states one woman, "that working class people should be able to 

get an education, speak and write eloquently, and not be assumed 

to or accused of 'becoming middle class.' We intelligent 

too. " 

In the natural course of things, a butterfly emerges from a 
a. caterpillar — this life changes dramatically from one distinct 
shape to another; yet, the two very dissimilar looking forms 
house the same individual creature. In this way, each butterfly 
flight grows from the will of the crawling caterpillar. 

Like a diseased version of a quite healthy metamorphosis, 
assimilation works to truncate the human individual quite 
thoroughly. This marked change of appearance, attitudes, 
character, condition and function, unlike a. natural 

metamorphosis, obliterates the original human will. Assimilation 
plants false dreams of flight in the consciousness. These dreams 
germinate in a soil fertilized with the deadly chemicals of self- 
hatred, and later feed a degenerate persona that most efficiently 
serves the culturally hegemonous interests of the dominant U.S. 
society . 



The women I love carry scars about their bellies. 
The bite of the dragon cut there early. If it 
hurt them, they forget it now, because who wants 
to remember pain? They say that men are just 
stronger than they are f better at some things. 
I have seen the shards of their dreams swept up 
and thrown away with the dirt on the floor. 1 

We white, working class lesbians internalize oppression. On 

a daily basis, we ingest the prevailing belief that such a social 

location predicates a morally and intellectually inferior gaze. 

This damaging conviction is based on the fact that only those 

people who ascribe to a white, middle class, heterosexist ethos 


are considered trustworthy moral agents and intelligent 

thinkers in contemporary U.S. society. 

A critical component that informs the white, middle class, 

heterosexist ethos is a claim to superior morality and 

intelligence. Through institutions such as the church, this 

dominant ethos controls rules of right conduct, based on an 

understanding of god informed by a patriarchal, familialist 

ideology where the father governs. This leadership is supposedly 

informed by superior reasoning abilities that no other members of 

the family (children of either sex or women) possess. By 

retaining control over academic institutions, these "fathers" 

perpetuate writing and research that supports their pre-eminence, 

and make claim to a. superior objectivity. The ability to remain 

emotionally removed from a contestable issue while discussing it 

supposedly informs a judicial assessment. 

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "internalize" as, 

"to take in (cultural values, for example) and make an integral 


part of one's attitudes or beliefs." It defines "oppression" as, 

"a feeling of being heavily weighed down, either mentally or 

physically." Another source explains "oppression" as, "the 

exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust 

manner." The Feminist Dictionary traces this word to the Latin 

opprimere , the meanings of which "include: to press against, 

bear down, put down, crush, overwhelm, fall upon, take by 

surprise, suppress, conceal; and by late Latin. . .the forcible 

violation of a woman." 

"Internalized oppression," then, is what Malcolm X 

accurately termed "the rape of the psyche." Indoctrinated by 

contemporary U.S. culture, and under considerable pressure to 

conform to these racist, classist, and heterosexist attitudes, 

the white, working class lesbian overpowers her self; she does 

the dirty, abusive work of degrading her own interests, welfare, 

and identity. Internalized oppression is the murderous dagger of 

ruling class authority upon which the white, working class 

lesbian impales her very being. 

In this way, those who govern U.S. society use classism and 

heterosexism to sharpen the influence of power-over, and coerce 

the oppressed to do the dirty work of subjugation for them. 

Racism also critically hones this control, and together these 

dreadful systems contribute to our destruction. 

Internalized oppression begins its ruinous work at a young 

age; in the short story called "The Lesson," by Toni Cade 

Bambara, one scene poignantly describes internalized oppression 

in children. Miss Moore, a neighborhood grass-roots educator. 


takes a group of impoverished, African-American children to a 

pretentious, upper class toys tore in New York City, where they 

learn a devastating lesson about the unequal distribution of 

wealth in U.S. society. 

Outside the store, the kids crack jokes about the amazingly 

exorbitant prices of the toys — such as four hundred and eighty 

dollars ($480) for a paperweight and one thousand, one hundred 

ninety-five dollars ($1,195) for a sailboat. They exited ly pick 

out toys they like, and try to estimate how long it would take 

them to save up their allowances in order to buy them. The 

narrator, Sylvia, says, "me and Sugar [was] screamin, 'This is 

mine, that's mine, I gotta have that, that was made for me, I was 

born for that. . ." 

This frivolity ends, however, when Miss Moore suggests they 

go into the store. Suddenly, the kids stop laughing. They stand 

quietly, unwilling to enter where they unconsciously know they 

don't belong. All bravado gone, Sylvia explains her feelings of 

embarrassment and unworthiness . In so doing, she aptly describes 

the debilitating effect of internalized oppression. Standing 

outside the store, she thinks to herself, 

. . . not that I'm scared [to go in], what's 
there to be afraid of, just a toy store. But 
I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be 
shamed about? Got as much right to go in as 
anybody. But somehow I can't seem to get hold 
of the door, so I step away for Sugar to lead. 
But she hangs back too. And I look at her and 
she looks at me and this is ridiculous. I mean, 
damn , I have never ever been shy about doing 
nothing. . .10 

Because these children live in the context of racist and c I assist 

U.S. society, they take in negative messages about their 

identities. These disparaging messages become a powerful inner 
voice. Internalized oppression functions as an invisible armed 
guard posted outside the toystore to frighten and intimidate 

Sylvia and her friends. 

This armed guard commits murder as well, violently 
shattering the hopes, dreams and bodies of the oppressed. 



only the individual suffers from this devastation. Internalized 

oppression weakens the community; it reduces the collective, 

liberative imagination. Oppressed communities desperately need 

this inspiration as a resource for resistance in the midst of 

unbearably harsh tribulations. 

One example of how the loss of the individual diminishes 

community is well illustrated in Sherley Anne William's novel 

Dessa Rose , set in eighteenth-century, U.S. slavocracy. The 

character Kaine, an enslaved African-American, dreams of being a. 

musician. After hearing an African man play the banjo, he 

builds one of his own. 

Kaine 's persona exudes the liberating joyfulness of music — 

the love and life it brings sparkles in his eyes. It strengthens 

his will to survive. His music contributes to the life of the 

community; a. soft and gentle tune soothes his partner Dessa to 

sleep after a long day in the fields; a playful ditty lightens 

other peoples misery; a mournful dirge laments their slavery. 

Dessa describes his gift, "Kaine could always give you something 

to laugh about, changing words with the men, teasing the women. 

He made jokes on the banjo. . ." 

In a singularly malicious act, the plantation master smashes 

Kaine 's banjo. In so doing, he destroys the music and the man. 


Spirit crushed,, Kaine's sense of self withers. Even though Dessa 

finds the wood and horsehair he needs, Kaine cannot find strength 

to build another banjo. The raw materials of his dream lie 

useless before him. He despondently says to Dessa, "Masa can 

make another one . . . Nigga can't do shit. Masa can step on a. 

nigga. hand, nigga heart, nigga life, and what can a nigga do? 

Nigga can't do shit." 

Kaine loses his struggle against a. heavy-handed, daily 

oppression, and internalizes this deadly authority. He 

eventually physically strikes out at the plantation master in 

what might seem on the surface a positively vengeful act. 

However, a desire for death, not life, motivates Kaine. Of 

course, he knows that such insubordination results in death; this 

suicidal impulse indicates the severity of Kaine's internalized 

oppression. When a suffering this terrible is ingested, dreams 

wither, hope vanishes, and people die. 

Brazilian-born educator Paulo Freire well understands the 

way internalized oppression brutally uproots the lives of 

individuals and the aspirations of communities. In his years 

of experience developing effective pedagogy for literacy, he 

worked closely with communities of people under siege from 

tyrannical governments. He witnessed — many times over the 

eroding effects of internalized oppression. In his book 

Education for Critical Consciousness he writes: 

unfortunately, what happens to a greater or 
lesser degree in the various 'worlds' into 
which the world is divided is that the ordinary 
person is crushed, diminished, converted into a. 
spectator, maneuvered by myths which powerful 
social forces have created. These myths turn 


against [one]; they destroy and annihilate 
[the person]. "19 

Such myths, strengthened by the power of the primordial 

origin they lay claim to, rigidly hold in place a dominating 

ideology, the sole purpose of which is to reflect the social, 

political, and economic aspirations of the governing class. 

Freire considers this fiction a most insidious tool; he writes, 

"Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern [humanity] is [its] 

domination by the force of these myths." 

Freire usefully describes the internalization of oppression 

as a process. This system, progressing over time, advances the 

agenda of those in power by erasing the critical consciousness of 


oppressed groups. Critical consciousness is the thought, will 

and perception one uses to exercise careful and exact evaluation 

of the merits, faults, value or truth of a matter. Freire 

explains the eradication of consciousness in this way: 

[People] were crushed by the power of the 
landlords, the governors, the captains, the 
viceroys. I n tro-j ec ting this external authority, 
[they] developed a consciousness which 'housed 
oppression," rather than [a] free and creative 
consciousness . . „ 23 

In this statement, and indeed in all of his writing, he 

cautions us that the internally oppressed individual provides 

living quarters for those who dominate her. She unconsciously 

harbors authoritative attitudes, based on whatever racist, 

classist, or heterosexist beliefs prevail in her culture. Freire 

warns that lodging such degrading notions proves dangerous. He 

writes, "when [people] try to save themselves by following 

u m 

prescriptions, they drown in leveling anonymity, without hope and 

without faith, domesticated and adjusted." 


We white, working class lesbians live in a culture based on 
hateful beliefs that negate our very being. Internalized 
classism and heterosexism the visitors we house. These 
unwelcome guests bring hopelessness with them, daily repeating 
the false allegation that our moral and intellectual capabilities 
are inferior. The rationalization for this dubious notion — that 
is, a supposed lack of judgment and shortage of brainpower on our 
part — rests solidly on the self-aggrandizing myth that the only 
trustworthy moral agents and creative thinkers in contemporary 
U.S. society are those people who ascribe to a white, middle 
class, heterosexist ethos. 

The arrogance implicit in the belief that only those who 
support this suffocating ethos are reliable moral agents and 
formative thinkers wields a haughty, overbearing power. White, 
working class lesbians internalize this offensive attitude. We 
swallow poisonous, domineering biases that high-handedly posit 
our moral and intellectual inferiority. 

Certainly, we white, working class lesbians internalize 
oppression by ingesting the prevailing belief that our social 
location predicates a moral and intellectual inferiority. This 
damaging conviction is based on the fact that only those people 
who sustain a white, middle class, heterosexist ethos receive 
credit for being valid moral agents and original thinkers in 
contemporary U.S. society. 

A devastating illustration of the effects of such myths of 
superiority is found in my survey of ten white, working class 
lesbians. Attitudes throughout the survey indicate serious 


levels of internalized oppression. Most women included 
disclaimers, apologizing for things in their responses such as 
writing style and word choice. Their replies poignantly describe 
an effort to become whole, moral agents — to make decisions based 
on their experience of right and wrong in the context of white, 
working class, and lesbian experience. They admit to an ongoing 
struggle to think of themselves as "smart." Daily, they hear and 
deal bravely with messages that tell them they exercise bad 
judgement and faulty thought. 

One woman tells a. story that describes the powerful, 
insidious nature of internalized oppression. She says, "I had a 
chance to go to a private girls school on scholarship. . . and my 
parents said "no," they couldn't dress me right — I'd never fit 
in. So I did not take the opportunity. I always felt it was a 
way I could have changed my life. Later I was again invited to 
apply to [a private women's college] and did not — this time I had 
internalized the reasons." 

Internalized oppression fragments us. We are unable to do 
constructive, self-affirming work when we are in pieces. One 
woman, a British citizen, shares a vivid critical analysis, 
"Spending most of my time at school, especially as a teenager, 
with the middle class people, was crucial in my internalizing 
classism. The English are masters of creating the institutions 
and psychological climate wherein the oppressed contribute to 
their own subjugation. . . So for much of my life I have stumbled 
around, disoriented. . . the root of my confusion was firmly 
embedded in the middle class colonization of my self. [I've 
been] fragmented for a long time and in pain, without a strong 


sense of self, without dignity 

my self - " 

R ■ 

a the most significant loss was 

Provacatively , another working class lesbian speaks of the 
internalization of oppressive values as her only way to survive 

classist, heterose.-'ist institutions. She states 

. . it was 

in learning those values — internalizing them — that I got through 
school. I would never have made it on my own without adopting 
another persona . . . [Yet my greatest] loss has been not 
understanding myself. Not being able to see what was going on — 
why I often felt depressed, lonely'? and very sad." 

The internalization of oppression always cuts us off from 
our true selves. It makes sure we unable to utilize valuable 
resources for our healthy survival. One woman writes, "... I 
have spent a. lot of my working and school life in a kind of fog, 
lacking the sharpness of my working-class wit and judgment, not 
having access to that grain of truth that my experience as a. 
working class woman gives me." 

Sharpened on the vicious whetstone of racist, classist, 
and heterosexist intolerance, internalized oppression slices up 
the soul. It diminishes our spirit, courage, and resolution. 
Deprived of these resources, our power wastes away. Without 
qualities of animation, fortitude, and determination, we lose the 
capacity to feel pain, we no longer draw back from it, and we 
become numb. 

Stunned from a life of daily oppression, white, working 
class lesbians lose consciousness. We no longer feel the sharp 
pain within. A fitful sleep overtakes us. This sleep is a 


desperate attempt at survival. It is a strategy based on the 
wisdom taught us by our bodies each night — that sleep refreshens 
and strengthens. However, in this grievous sleep brought on by 
unbearable pain, we intermittently wake and sleep, never quite 
resting. We pass in and out of consciousness. This imposed 
respite keeps us exhausted, groggy and unable to defend ourselves 
from attack; this deadly sleep claims healing power, but it can 
do nothing to mend our wounds. 



Say goodnight to your mother 

and turn out the light 

she's working the late shift tonight 

where it's bedpans, or dishpans, or factory machines 
from midnight till eight in the morning 

Justice is working her way back to us 

I know she's working her way back . . .1 

To conclude;, one must be willing to reach a decision or form 

an opinion about a matter. This proves no small task when 

considering the issue of passing in the lives of white, working 

class lesbians. Reached after careful deliberation, my 


conclusions reflect my faith in "common sense." My mother 
encouraged me to practice this innate good judgement often. 

Although many threads of thought weave in and out of the 
preceding pieces on passing, assimilation, and internalized 
oppression, I lift up the following four for considerations 
As white, working class lesbians, I suggest that : 1) we love and 
revere life, 2) we trust passing as an effective survival 
strategy, 3) we underestimate the power of forces estranged from 
the well-spring of life, and 4) we discount the power of what I 
call our "ethic of good will." 

First of all, I believe we white, working class lesbians use 
passing as a survival strategy primarily because we love and 
revere life. This love for life logically encourages us to 
protectively conceal our identities when in danger. 

In my survey on passing in the lives of white, working class 
lesbians, a joyful reverence for life springs forth, even in the 
face of adversity. One woman expresses this best when she says, 


"I get in touch with my spirit when I sing;. . . when I am 

conscious of sunshine, snow,, the wind, the ocean, trees, cats, 

the earth; when I am in the company of women, and the very odd 

man, who dare stand against death dealing. My spirit responds 

positively to that which is biophilic, life-loving. And it 

responds with rage and pain to that which is necrophilic, death- 

loving . " 

Secondly, I think our white, working class lesbian community 
puts trust in passing as an effective survival strategy. 
Unfortunately, this confidence contributes to an oversight of the 
fact that passing leads to our spiritual, intellectual, and 
physical demise. I believe we seriously discount the suffocating 
power of assimilation and internalized oppression. 

A healthy suspicion of passing appeared throughout the 
surveys. Most women felt pressured to pass, and wished other 
choices existed. Many felt passing to be so thoroughly informed 
by classist and heterosexist assumptions as to be imposed upon 
them. Yet, all agreed that passing did work in their favor often 
enough to inform their basic trust of it. 

"I pass because that is the best way to survive," admits one 
woman surveyed, "We all do it. That's the only way to make it 
out. Unless you pass, no amount of money or connecting or work 
or lotto tickets or prayer can get you out. . . we &re here to 
fill the holes with whatever cement we can find." 

Thirdly, I feel we white, working class lesbians have a 
tendency to forget, at our peril, that the powers pressuring us 
to pass gain momentum daily in contemporary U.S. society. When 


we continue to insist that passing operates as an adequate 
survival strategy, we underestimate the power of death- 
worshipping forces, long estranged from the well-spring of life. 

Most of the women surveyed expressed frustration with the 
issue of passing. Passing looms in their lives like a many- 
headed hydra; no single attempt they make seems to be able to 
eradicate it. Unfortunately, this power lessness clogs up our 
reasoning abilities. It prevents us from seeing that the death- 
dealing might of our oppressors is increasing, while our own 
strategy of passing holds the same risky chance. 

One woman expresses this immobilization very clearly, "I 
hate passing, I hate the way it feels like I'm pushing down a 
very big part of myself, into a little box in my gut. I hate the 
fact that diversity on every level is not tolerated in so many 
places in this society. . » I hate having to weigh the 
possibilities of being punished for who I a.m. . ." 

Finally, and most critically I believe, we discount our 

white, working class lesbian "ethic of good will." We do this by 

not drawing out values inherent in our community which could lead 

to new, life-affirming survival strategies and eventually to the 

transformation of corrupt structures. We remain unaware of the 

power an ethic of good will holds. 

There certainly appeared throughout the surveys what I would 


call a common value. This value informs a strong sense of 
community interest; each woman spoke of passing as a community 
issue, not simply a personal one. This leads me to believe that 
faithful exploration of our shared ethic will provide us with 
enough imaginative energy to create alternatives, so that we no 


longer rely on passing to survive. 

One woman expresses what I consider a basic example of an 

ethic of good will. She writes, "I make the best of what is and 

make do materially, partly because it's a survival strategy, but 

also because it's an ethical and creative way of living. . . My 

friends important to me and community is key. I share what I 

have even when I don't have much. My house is open to folk and I 

believe in feeding them!" 

Dug deep in a central place, a well provides a community 

with many important things. A place to gather, to share stories, 

to draw up the sweet water of life, and to labor for deeper 

founts of understanding, the well replenishes our community with 

consistent sustenance and celebration. When we allow this well 

to dry up, we die of thirst. 

Therefore, since we white, working class lesbians people 

full of good will, always ready to render a. favor to one who 

needs it even if we get nothing in return, and since we trust in 

the sagacious knowledge of common sense, and since we believe 

in a divine spirit that bestows love and protection freely on 

humankind, then let us make an agreement with one another. 

Let us agree to draw up , drink in , and dig out in order to stop 

averting our gaze from the seriousness of our situation. If we 

do these three things, I believe our critical focus will shift, 

and we will be able to cleary locate the source of our strength 

in the life-giving waters of an ethic of good will. 

By "draw up," I mean that we should encourage these waters 

to flow forth from our hearts and minds. Intuitively, we know we 


have survived for a reason. But so many of our sisters have not. 
It is our responsibi 1 i ty , then, to turn to those values that 
provide us with stamina and courage, and lift them up. 

We must then share these sweet, hard-won handfuls of water 
with each other. This is what I describe when I say "drink in." 
We a thirsting people. The drought imposed by death- 
worshipping powers has lasted much longer than just our lives; 
a collective thirst parches us. Taking fresh life into ourselves 
will bathe the wounds we suffer — the pain of internalized 
oppression, for instance. The waters drawn from a well such as 
ours contain strong healing. 

Lastly, but most importantly, as white, working class 
lesbians we must not forget to "dig out." What I am saying here 
is that we must remember racism taints our ethic of good will. 
It seeps into the ground water of our consciousness. Not only- 
people of color killed by racist poison. A large part of the 
reason our bodies and spirits remain so weak, racism impedes our 
ability to imagine alternatives to passing. We must recognize 

the connections between our community and communities of color, 

for we oppress ourselves when oppressing others. 

Just as a. well must be re-drilled regularly in order to 

provide clean, drinkable water, so we must faithfully labor to 

deeply re-examine our values, as to insure that any life- 

affirming strategies we propose using our ethic of good will 

embrace a whole-hearted justice for all. 


Suzanne Pharr, author of Homophobia ; A Weapon of Sexism (#) 
planted the seed for this work at a Simmons College lecture in 
1990. At one point in this lecture Pharr suggested that "out" 
lesbians demonstrate compassionate understanding for those 
lesbian sisters who pass to survive. As a white, working class 
lesbian who passes, I asked Pharr if she thought there existed a 
relationship between sexual identity passing and class passing. 
She said it was a very good question! 

This inquiry grew into a paper entitled "The Politics of 
Passing: White, Working Class Lesbians Incognito," written as a 
final paper for the course "Feminist Theology and Ethics," team- 
taught by Dr. Francine Cardman and Dr. Judith Dwyer at the Weston 
School of Theology. Some of the questions raised in that paper 
were, what does it mean when lesbians use the word "passing" to 
describe an understanding of themselves living incognito as 
heterosexual? What does it mean as well when members of the 
U.S.;, white, working class use this word when adapting to the 
value systems of the white middle class? 

These questions sprouted into my Master's thesis, the first 
part of a four chapter exploration of passing in the lives of 
white, working class lesbians. I intend to continue this project 
in my PhD program beginning fall 1991 at Emory University in 

(*) Homophobia. : A Weapon of Sexism , by Suzanne Pharr, Chardon 
Press, Little Rock, AR , 1988. 



Eman c i pa to r y Historiography 

To organize this project, I use The Reverend Dr. Katie G. 
Cannon's Emancipatory Historiography method, which consists of 
four steps: 1) analytical constructs, 2) structure of historical 
development (institutional constraints), 3) shared disposition 
(culture), and 4) collective action (see Diagram 1). She 
describes this method as, "explicit historical, socioethical 
analysis aimed to connect our historical narratives of specific, 
experienced contestable issues to the broader historical 
framework" (Cannon, "Emancipatory Historiography and Medical 
Ethics," lecture notes). 

For this thesis, I utilize the first step, "analytical 
constructs." The five constructs related to passing I have 
chosen to analyze include: passing, assimilation, internalized 
oppression, tokenism and accomodation. In this paper I explore 
the first three of these. 
Dr . Isaac R - Clark's Homi letical Method 

To flesh out this framework, I speak using Dr. Clark's 
homiletical method, as taught by Dr. Cannon in her course, 
"Ethical Themes for Relevant Preaching." Beginning with the 
"origin of the idea," the powerful crux of this methodology 
consists of the "sermonic problem," which asks the deceptively- 
simple questions: what, how, and why? It requires the use of a 
"why crisis" to gauge the pathos, ethos, logos, and theos of a 
particular community. This method encourages, as well, the 
development of relevant metaphors to stretch the examination of 
the contestable issue (see Diagram 2). 



(connecting historical narratives of a contestable 
issue to the broader historical framework) 

Analytical Constructs 

$ Employ "experience-distant" concepts to clarify 

the contestable issue 

^Define those concepts 

* Develop model of logic as a benchmark 
to assess deviations 

Collective Action 

Historical Development 

* What motivational constructs 
may or may not act together 
to transform disposition or 

* Recover social memory — 
lift up the history of 
resistance to oppression 

* Demonstrate collective 
human agency 

*' "Experience-near" 

* How does this 
group of people 
actually live? 

* What institutional 
constraints are 
imposed upon 

Shared Disposition 

* Determine the shared race/sex/class understanding 
of a group about the contestable issue 

* Construct a cognitive map of the terrain 

of lived experience 

(#) excerpted from the notes "Emancipatory Historiography and 
Medical Ethics," by Dr. Katie G. Cannon. 



(as used in this thesis) 

Origin of the Idea 
# "a-ha" experience, click, consciousness-raised 


# sermonic problem asks what, how, why? 

* "we have a tendency to (what) 

in terms of (how) , 

due to (why) ." 


* flip the sermonic problem three times 
( a ) ( b ) ( c ) 

what how why 

how why what 

why what how 


* the "show me" — examples that clearly illustrate 

the what, how, why 



* why crisis 
* gauge the pathos, ethos, logos, and theos 

of your audience 
* remember they will ask the question, 

* construct a relevant metaphor for illustration 



Data used in this paper come from a survey on passing I 
designed for white, working class lesbians. Ten women who self- 
identify as such participated in the study. I reached these 
women through word of mouth and advertisements in the Episcopal 
Divinity School Bui let in . Constructed in questionnaire form, the 
survey consists of a brief, ten question demographics form 
followed by twelve essay questions. Most women wrote 5-10 pages 
in response and returned the survey within three weeks of 
receiving it. 

The demographics form asks the questions: what is your age, 
what is your racial /ethnic heritage, what is your religious 
heritage, how do you name your spiritual self today, describe 
your educational background (current level), what kind of 
environment do you live in primarily (rural/farm, suburb, urban), 
what is your occupation, what is your average yearly income, you 
Are a citizen of what country, and in what region of that country 
have you lived the longest? 

The demographic results illustrate that the average age of 
the ten participants was in the range of 25-34 years of age (see 
Figure 1). The racial /ethnic heritage of those surveyed was 
primarily northern european , with the exception of one woman, who 
claims some native american heritage as well. All participants 
were raised in the Christian tradition, from fundamentalist 
Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Significantly, none of these 
women now remain in the Christian tradition. They do, however, 
all still claim a spiritual self. They name this in a. variety of 


ways, using terms such as witch, post-christian , and humanist 
(see Table 1). The survey was skewed towards a high level of 
educational background,, with all women as college graduates or 
above (see Figure 2). The kind of environment these women live 
in is primarily urban. Their occupations student, cleaner, 
teacher, psychotherapist, word processor, marketing director, and 
research associate. All women but one make less than $30,000 per 
year (See Figure 2). Most women claim U.S. citizenship. One 
woman is a Canadian citizen, however and another is a citizen of 
Great Britain (UK). 

The main body of the survey, based on Marvin Ellison's 
"Social Strata Inventory" and Carter Heyward and Bev Harrison's 
"Life- Journey Questionnaire" asks these questions: 

1. How do you define "passing?" When is the first time you 
heard this word? What was the context in which you heard it 
being used? 

2. What metaphors or images come to mind when you think of 

3. When did you know you were a. lesbian? What is the story of 
your coming out process? Does passing play a. part in this 
story? If so, how? 

4. How has your religious heritage influenced the way you think 
about your lesbianism? How has your lesbianism influenced 
the way you think about your religious heritage? 

5. How do you define your spirituality today? Does passing have 
an influence on that spirituality? If so, in what ways? 

6. How do you explain your identification as working class? How 
has your ra.ce or ethnicity influenced your class 
consciousness? How has passing played a part in your life 

as a working class woman? 

7. What were the stated and unstated assumptions about passing 
in your family? How was passing viewed? Was it ever talked 
about? As a child, what was your understanding of your 
parents' passing? Do you. know what your parents did to pass? 
If not, why not, and how did that shape your own attitude 
about passing? 


8. What is your passing history? What kinds of passing have you. 
done? What passing skills do you have? What kinds of 
passing have you done in the workplace or institutions such 
as church, school, home, and family? 

9. In what situations do you feel most pressured to pass? 

10. What &re your attitudes about passing? If you had an 
absolute choice, what would you do about your passing? 

11. In relation to passing, what has been your most significant 
gain? Your most significant loss? 

12. Any other comments about passing? 








o - 





/ \ A" 
/ \/ 





-A A 







1 H 


i | i 1 -I i -i -■ | r 

i ■ i 

■ i 

• I 

• i 


C D E F G H 


1 Under 18 

2 18-24 

3 25-34 

4 35-49 

5 50-64 

6 65 + 









Educational Level 


g Some Graduate Work 

g College Degree 

Income Level 

1 Less than 10,000 

2 10,000-14,999 

3 15,000-19,999 

4 20,000-29,999 

5 30,000-39,999 

6 40,000 + 







Respondent Religious Heritage 

Spiritual Naming Today 

Christian Reformed 







Method is t 

Humanist Pagan 

Roman Catholic 

Feminist Lesbian Witch 

Church of England 

Woman Al ive i 


Roman Catholic 



Fundamental ist 
and Irish Catholic 

Dianic Pagan, Witch 

Roman Catholic 







Julie Wilson,, "Prayer," unpublished poem, Cambridge,, MA, 1989. 

Beverly Harrison, edited by Carol S. Robb, Making the 
connections ; essays in feminist social ethics „ Beacon Press, 
Boston, MA, 1985, 236. 

Peggy Mcintosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible 
knapsack," The Independent School Bui letin , winter 1990, page 31. 

A thorough examination of white supremacist movements in the 
United States can be found in The si lent brotherhood : inside 
American ' s racist underground , by Kevin Flynn, Gary Gerhard t, 
Collier Macmillan Press, New York, NY, 1989. 

Beah Richard's poems realistically describe the effect of white 
supremacy on women of color. See her book A black woman speaks 
and other poem s , Inner City Press, Los Angeles, CA , 1974. 

Class consciousness in the U.S. is discussed by Reeve Vannaman 
and Lynn Weber Cannon in their book The American perception of 
c lass , Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1987. 

Katie G. Cannon suggests these thirteen factors determine class 
location in the U.S.: ancestry, economic income, style of life, 
education, interpersonal relationships, manners, social distance, 
values, ideology/political stance, religious affiliations, 
motivation, expectations, and language. 

Upward mobility is defined by Mike Davis in his book Prisoners 
of the American dream : pol i tics and economy in the history of the 
U.S. working c lass , Verso, New York, NY: distributed by Sc hoc ken 
Books, London, England 1986. 

Patsy Gfeller, Peter Gf el ler and Anna Maria Moser Gf el ler : 
Gf el ler f ami ly tree — 125 years in America 1853-1978 ,, unpublished 
manuscript, Junction City, KS , 1978, p. 2. 

Benjamin DeMott elaborates about the confusion of U.S. middle 
class identity in his book The imperial midd le : why Americans 
can ' t thin k straight about class, Morrow Publishers, New York, 
NY, 1990. 

These ruling class families are described by Nelson W. Aldrich, 
Jr. in Old money : the mythology of America " s upper c lass , A . A ■ 
Knopf: distributed by Random House, New York, NY, 1988. 


Those who govern the U.S. do profit, and this is exemplified in 


the Paul Blu.mberg book The predatory society : deception in the 
American marketpl ace , by Paul Blum berg, Oxford University Press, 
New York, NY, 1989. 

One definition of "working class" can be found in Douglas M» 
Eicher, Occupation and c 1 ass consciousness in America. , Greenwood 
Press, New York, NY, 1989. 

Exploitation of the working class is discussed by Thomas R. 
Brooks in Toi 1 and trouble : a history of American labor , Dell, 
New York, NY, 1971." 

To read more about heterosexist distinctions, see Cynthia Fuchs 
Epstein, Deceptive distinctions : sex , gender , and the social 
order , Yale University Press: Russell Sage Foundation, New Haven, 
1988. ' 

For a discussion of marriage as a form of social control, read 
the somewhat dated yet useful Geoffrey May, Social control of sex 
expression , W. W„ Morrow & Company, New York, NY, 1931. 

The history and customs of marriage are illustrated by 
Christopher N.L. Brooke in The medieval idea of marriage , Oxford 
University Press, New York, NY, 1989. 

Psychological implications of racism in the white consciousness 
can be found in Joel Kovel , White racism : a psycho hi story , Free 
Association Books, London, England, 19383. 

Class injury is described by Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb 
in Hidden in j uries of c lass , Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1972. 

Lesbians speak about the struggle to name their lesbian 
identity in the book edited by Julia Penelope and Susan J. Wolfe, 
The original coming out stories : expanded e dition , The Crossing 
Press, Freedom, CA, 1989. 

See editor Ted J. Smith, for a collection of essays about 
propaganda in Propaganda ; a plural is tic perspective , Praeger, New 
York, NY, 1989. 



Julie Wilson, "The politics of passing: white, working class 
lesbians incognito," unpublished paper, Cambridge, MA, 1990, 
p . 16 . 

Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler, A feminist dictionar 
Pandora Press, London, England, 1989, p. 322. 


For more information on women passing as men, see "She even 
chewed tobacco: a pictorial narrative of passing women in 
America, "in Hidden from history : rec laiming the gay and lesbian 


past f edited by Martin Du.berman , Martha Vicinu.5, and George 

Chauncey, Jr., Meridian Press, New York, NY, 1989. 


In my search for definitions of "passing," I looked to many 
other sources. Interestingly, passing was not listed in these 
four as a subject for definition or discussion: The Negro 
Almanac , ed . Harry A. Floski, James Williams, 5th Edition, Gale 
Research Inc., Detroit, MI, 1989; Encyc I opedia of Bl ack America , 
W. Augustus Low, Virgil A. Clift, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 
1981; The New Jewish Encyc lopedia , David Bridger, Samuel Wolk, 
Behrman House Inc., NY, 1962; and Dictionary of Race and Ethnic 
Relations , by E. Ellis Cashmore, Routledge, London, England, 

Case studies on interracial marriage in the U.S. can be found in 
Ernest Porterfield, Black and white mixed marriages , Nelson-Hall, 
Chicago, IL, 1978. 

Nella La r sen, edited by Deborah E. McDowell, Quicksand and 
passing , Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ , 1986, 
p . 172 . 

For an indepth report on racial hatred, read Inci tement to 
racial hatred : issues and ana 1 y s i s /Human Rights Commission , 
Australian Government Publication Service, 1982. 

Larsen , op . cit . , p. 171. 

May Sarton, The education of Harriet Hatfield , W. W. Norton, New 
York, NY, 1989, p. 75. 

Gerda Lerner, Black women in white America ; a documentary 
history , Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 1972, p. 67. 

Kore Archer, "This great drama," Sinister Wisdom , summer/fall 
1988, p. 88. 

For more information on feminist liberation theology, see Katie 
G. Cannon, et. al . , God ' s fierce whimsy , The Pilgrim Press, New 
York, NY, 1985. 

Carter Hey ward , Touching our strength , Harper & Row Publishers, 
San Francisco, CA , 1989, p. 29. 

Julie Wilson, "A conversation with Carter Heyward about 
passing," unpublished, Cambridge, MA, 1991. 

For more on Carter Heyward ' s theories of justice, read her book 
Our passion for justice . The Pilgrim Press, New York, NY, 1984. 

About liberation theology, also see Marc H. Ellis and Otto 
Madura, editors, The future of 1 iberation theology ; essays in 
honor of Gustavo Gutierrez . Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1989. 

The atmosphere Carter Heyward speaks of here is documented in 


David R. Goldf ield , Biac k a whi te , and southern ; ra.rz& relations 
and southern cul ture, 1940 to the present , Louisiana State 
University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 1990. 

See George R. Edwards, Gay/ 1 esbian 1 i Deration ; a b i b 1 i c a 1 
perspective , Pilgrim Press, New York, NY, 1984. 

Coming out versus staying in the closet is the subject of Eve 
Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemoloqy of the closet, University of 
California Press, 1991. 

Carter Heyward says that Dorothee Solle first used the term 
"christof ascism" in conversation with her colleagues at Union 
Theological Seminary in New York in the early 1980' s. 

Audre Lorde, Sister outsider , The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, 
NY, 1984, p. 115. 

Gary Corns toe k, Violence against lesbians and gay men , Columbia 
University Press, New York, NY, 1991, p. 38. 

Julie Wilson, "Passing survey of white, working class 
lesbians," unpublished, Cambridge, MA, 1991. 

This article documents class differentials in mortality rates 
in the U.S. Vicente Navarro, "The class gap," in The Nation , 
April 8, 1991, p. 436-437. 

Janet Zandy, Cal 1 inq home : workinq-c lass women ' s writings , 
Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ , 1990, p. 155. 

More on working conditions of working class women can be found 
in the oral histories edited by Victoria Byerly Hard times cotton 
mill girls , ILR Press, Ithaca, NY, 1986. 

Survival skills as resistance to oppression discussed in 
chapter 5 of Gerda Lerner, Black women in white America ; a 
documentary history , Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 1972. 

Ellen Boneparth and Emily Stoper, editors, Women , power and 
pol icy ; toward the year 2000 , Pergammon Press, 1988, p. 227. 

Por more discussion on women and work, see Henrietta C. Moore, 
Feminism and anthropology , chapter 5 "Women and the state," 
University of Minnesota Press, 1988. 


Julie Wilson, "A long poem for a hard night," unpublished poem, 
Cambridge, MA, 1990, part II. 


For more on the subject of assimilation, read The art of 
crossing cul tures , by Craig Storti , In tercul tural Press, 


Yarmouth, ME, 1989. 

Paule Marshall, Brown girl , brownstones , The Feminist Press at 
The City University of New York, NY, 1981, p. 221. 

Kate Chopin, "Desiree's baby," in The awakening , Bantam Books, 
New York, NY, 1981, p. 178. 

I bid . , p. 178. 

Ibid . , p. 179. 

The genocide of Native Americans is one subject the poet 
Chrystos takes on in her book Not vanishing , Press Bang 
Publishers, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, 1988. 

Adrienne Rich, Blood , bread , and poetry : selected prose 1979- 
1985, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, 1986, p. 123. 

Ibid . , p. 142. 

A thorough explanation of WASP (white, ang lo-saxon , protestant) 
culture can be found in Crashing the gates ; the de-WASPing of 
America ' s power el i te , by Robert C. Christopher, Simon and 
Schuster, New York, NY, 1989. 

Rich, op ,. ci t . , p. 102 

A collection of fiction, essays, art, poetry, and interviews 
describe experiences of Jewish women. Edited by Melanie 
Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irena Klepfisz, The tribe of D i n a : a Jewish 
women ' s anthology , Sinister Wisdom 29/30 , 1986. 

More information about Jewish identity is found in the book 
Jewish id en ti ty in the modern world , by Michael A. Meyer, 
University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA , 1990. 

Rich, op . ci t . , p . 110. 

Rich, op . ci t . , p . 111. 

Rich, loc . ci t . . 

Rich, op. cit . , p. 127, 128. 

The concept of the "outsider" in literature is explored in the 
book Outsiders : a study in life and letters , by Hans Mayer, 
translated by Denis M. Sweet, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1982. 

Adrienne Rich, On 1 ies , secrets , and si lence ; selected prose 
1966-1978 , W. W. Norton & Company, 1979, p. 252." 

Adrienne Rich, Blood , bread , and poetry; selected prose 1979- 
1985 , W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, 1986, p. 120. 



Ibid . , p. 141 . 

X— x~ 

Domination and power — over ideologies enforce the assimilation 
imperative. Domination is discussed in Bernard G. Meyerson , The 
abuse of power : a study of three factors in its development , 
University of Lund, 1987. 

As cited in the introduction to this paper, Mike Davis talks 
about the elusive U.S. success story in Prisoners of the American 
dream : pol i tics and economy in the history of the US working 
c lass . Verso, New York, NY: distributed by Sc hoc ken Books, 
London, 1986. 

For more on alienation, see Worker alienation , researched and 
written by Loren Meltzer under the supervision of Michael Rosowl , 
Work in America Institute, Scarsdale, NY, 1978. 

Alice Denise Danford interviewed eight working class women 
students who speak of alienation in the academic setting; their 
words cited in her Master's thesis "Scaling the ivory tower: 
the experiences of first generation, working-class women 
students," unpublished. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 
IL, 1990. 

For more on assimilation in the lives of lesbians and gays, see 
the comprehensive textbook Looking at g a y and lesbian life , by 
Warren Blumenfeld and Diane Raymond, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 



Julie Wilson, "The best prophets have thrown away a thousand 
dreams," unpublished essay, Cambridge, MA, 1991, p. 2. 


"Moral agency" is that action arising from one's sense of right 
and wrong in relation to human character; it is informed by- 
incisive deliberation. 

A critical analysis of middle class values can be found in 
Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of falling: the inner life of the midd le 
c lass , Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 1990. 

For more about this dominant ethos, read editors Anthony Biddens 
and David Held, Classes , power , and conf 1 ic t : c lassical and 
contemporary debates. University of California Press, Berkeley, 
CA, 1982. 

Significantly, the root of opprimere , the Latin " premere , " also 
operates as the foundation of the English word "depress." 
Particularly for women, this raises the cogent question 
(unfortunately not within the scope of this paper), "what is the 
actual difference between "oppression" and "depression?" 


Cheris Krs.marae and Paula A „ Treichler, A feminist dictionary , 
Pandora Press, London, England, 1989,, p. 314. 

Malcolm X talks about "the rape of the psyche" in B_x any means 
necessary , Pathfinder Press, New York, NY, 1970. 

Internalized oppresion is also discussed by Hussein Abdilahi, in 
Frantz Fan on and the psychology of oppression , Plenum Press, New 
York, NY 1985. 

Toni Cade Bambara, "The lesson," in An Introduction to 
Literature , edited by Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman , and William 
Bur to, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA, 1985, p. 411. 

Ibid . , p. 414. 

Joanna Kadi discusses the shattered dreams of her working class 
aunt in her article, "Broken feet: my Aunt Rose didn't dream 
much," in Gay Community News, January 21-27, 1990, page 8. 

Also, Joanna Kadi talks about internalized oppression in terms 
of "the conquered self" and "the conquest of the self" in her 
Master's thesis, "Searching for words, searching for knowledge," 
unpublished, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, 1990. 

The Amer ican Heritage Dictionary defines "slavocracy" as, "The 
power structure formed by the advocates of slavery in the United 
States before the civil war." 

Katie G. Cannon discusses the ideological hegemony that 
supported slavocracy in the Christian community in her article, 
"Slave ideology and biblical interpretation," in Semeia : an 
experiment a 1 j ournal for biblical criticism , no. 47, Scholars 
Press, Atlanta, GA , 1989. 

Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose , Berkley Books, New York, NY, 
1986, p. 29. 

I bid . , p . 34 . 

For a historical discussion of slavery and violence see David 
Brion Davis, From homicide to slavery : studies in American 
cul ture , Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1986. 

For a recent look at Paulo Freire's philosophy, see We make the 
road by wal king ; conversations on education and social 
change/My les Ho r ton and P aulo Freire , edited by Brenda Bell, John 
Gaventa, and John Peters, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 
PA, 1990. 

Paulo Freire, Education for critical consciousness , Continuum 
Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1973, p. 6. 

In her master's thesis, Susan Phillips discusses how the ruling 
classes (white, western, European, Christian men) distort social 


memory. See "Changing mirrors into windows,," unpublished, 

Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, 1991. 


Freire, op ■ ci t . , p. 6. 

Thank you to Susan Phillips for clarifying the erasure of 
critical consciousness for me; she suggests that internalized 
oppression, fed by illusory myths, takes up the space in our 
bodies where a. critical consciousness should be. 



See section three "( De ) colonized selves, finding hope through 
horror," in Making face , making soul /hacienda car as : creative and 
critical perspectives by women of color , edited by Gloria 
Anzaldua, Aunt Lute Foundation Books, San Francisco, CA , 1990. 



ci t . , 



Freire , 

op . 

ci t . , 




Julie Wilson, "Working woman's lullaby," unpublished song, 
Cambridge, MA, 1989. 

Adrian Furnham writes about common sense in his book Lay- 
theories : everyday understanding of the prob lems in the socia 1 
sciences, Pergammon Press, New York, NY, 193S. 

I term the white, working class lesbian ethic an "ethic of good 
will." I base this term on the pathos, ethos, logos and theos of 
white, working class lesbians. I believe these women: 

1) pathos — bear a. life-affirming disposition towards others, 

2) ethos — believe in doing favors for other people, even if they 
get nothing in return, 3) logos — understand cosmic reason to be 
best found in common sense, and 4) theos — believe in a divine 
spirit that bestows love and protection freely on humankind. 

I will explore this ethic of good will indepth in chapter four of 

my doctoral dissertation. 


For a. very clear explanation of how U.S. economy is concretely 
based on death-dealing, see Marilyn Waring 's chapter 7 "The value 
of death: how war, poverty, and poisons help the economy," in I f 
women counted : a new feminist economics , Harper &. Row Publishers, 
New York, NY, 1988. 

See Elaine Neil Orr's book Ti 1 1 ie 01 sen and a feminist spiritual 
vision , Universi-ty Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 19S7. 

Sarah Lucia Hoagland discusses lesbian value and culture in her 
comprehensively indexed Lesbian ethics : toward new value , 
Institute of Lesbian Studies, Palo Alto, CA , 1988. 

See S. Iniobong Udoidem, Authority and the common good in social 


and pol i tical phi losophy , University Press of America, 1988. 
John J. McNeil discusses "the gay virtues" in chapter four of 

his book Taking a chance on god , Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 1988 

Two feminists discuss friendship as a motive for community 
building. Maria C. Lugones and Elizabeth V. S pel man, "Have we 
got a theory for you! Feminist theory, cultural imperialism and 
the demand for 'the woman's voice,'" Women ' s Studies 
International Forum , vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 573-581, 1983. 

A collection of essays on feminist spirituality provides 
examples of new ways of thinking, edited by Judith Plaskow and 
Carol P. Christ, Weaving the visions , Harper & Row, San 
Francisco, CA , 1989. 

Further exploration of identity politics is found in Shane 
P he Ian, Identity pol i tics : lesbian feminism and the 1 imi ts of 
community , Temple University Press, 1989. 

More on the importance of white women doing anti-racism work is 
found in Carrie Jane Singleton, "Race and gender in feminist 
theory," Sage „ vol. VI, no. 1, summer 1989. 

See Iris Marion Young, Justice and the pol i tics of difference , 
by Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ , 1990. Also see 
Karen Lebacgz, who capsulizes six theories of justice, from John 
Stuart Mill to Jose Porfirio Miranda in her book Si;; theories of 
j ust ice , Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN , 1986. 



alienation, 35, 36 

amnesia, 34 

Archer, Kore, 19 

assimi lation 

dictionary definitions of, 23, 2? 

formative figure definition, 31—34 

literature descriptions, 29-31 

metaphor, 36 

white, working class lesbian survey exemplification, 35, 36 

assimulate, 29 

Etlood , bread , and poetry , Rich, 31-33 

Brown girl , brownstones , Marshall, 29, 30 

Cade Bambara, Toni, 3S 

Cal ling home , Zandy, 6, 24 

Cannon, Katie G., 53, 54 

Chopin, Kate, 30 

Clark, Isaac R., 53, 55 

class structure, 8 

classism, S 

internalized, 43 

class injury, 12 

common sense, 47, 50 

common value, 49 

community, 40, 49, 50 

Comstock, Gary, 23 

Craft, Ellen and William, IS 

critical consciousness, 42 

cultural hegemony, 10 

Desiree ' s Baby , Chopin, 30, 31 


Pes s a Rose, Williams, 40, 41 

dominant ethos, 37 

downward mobility, 32 

Education for critical consciousness , Freire, 41, 42 

Ellison, Marvin, 57 

Emancipatory historiography, 53, 54 

erons, 4 

ethic of good will, 47, 49-51 

familialist ideology, 37 

Feminist Dictionary , 16, 38 

feminist liberation theology, 19 

fragmentation, 44, 45 

Freire, Paulo, 41, 42 

gay, 11 

genocide, 31 

Gfeller family, 9 

Harrison, E-ieverly, 7, 57 

heteroses ism , 10 

internalized, 43 

heterosexual , 11 

Heyward, Carter, 19-22, 57 

homiletical method of Dr. Clark, 53, 55 

homophobia, 13 

Homophobia : a weapon of sexism , Pharr, 52 

internalize, 37 

internalized oppression 
as a process, 42 

dictionary definitions, 37, 38 
formative figure description, 41, 42 
literature descriptions, 38-41 
metaphor, 45, 46 


white, working class lesbian exempl if ication , 44, 45 
invisibility, IS, 20, 21 
justice, 51 
Larsen, Nella, 17 
lesbian, 11 

lesbian identity, 13, 19, 31, 34 
Lorde, Audre, 22 
Making the connections , Harrison, 7 

marriage, 11 

Marshall, Paule 29 

Mcintosh, Peggy, 8 

moral agent, 37 

myths, 9, 42-44 

Nestle, Joan, 16 

norm, 17 

obedience, 34 

objectivity, 7 , 37 

On 1 ies , secrets , and si lence , Rich, 33 

oppression , 38 

origin of the idea, 52 

outsider, 33 


dictionary definitions, 16 

formative figure definition, 17-22 

literature descriptions, 17-19 

metaphor, 26, 27 

white, working class lesbian survey exemplification, 26 

white, working class lesbian survey, 56-61 

Passing , La r sen , 17, 13 

Pharr, Suzanne, 52 

racism, 35, 38, 51 


Rich, Adrienne, 31-34 

ruling class, 9, 42 

Barton, May, 18 

Schafter, Diane, 26 

Sinister Wisdom, 1? 

Sister outsider , Lorde, 22 

slavocracy, 40 

social location, 7 

Solle, Dorothee, 22 

survey of white, working class lesbians, 56-61 
age of respondents graph (Figure 1), 59 
demographics, 56, 57, 59, 60 
education and income graph (Figure 2), 60 
essay questions, 57 
spiritual naming (Table 1), 61 

Stanley, Liz, 16 

The education of Harriet Hatfield , Sarton , 18 

The lesson. Cade Bam bar a, 38-40 

Touching our strength , Heyward , 19 

upward mobility, 9, 35 


against lesbians and gays, 23 

white, working class lesbians description of, 
in exploitative labor, 24, 25 

white, working class lesbians description of, 
of internalized oppression, 40 


Violence against lesbians and gay men , Comstock, 23 

white, 8 

white, middle class ethos, 9, 34, 37, 43 

white privilege, 7 

white, working class lesbians 

ethic of good will, 47, 49-51 

exemplifications, 23-27, 35, 36, 44, 45, 47-49 
survey, 56-61 


Williams, S her ley Anne, 40 

Wilson, Julie, 2, 7, 28, 37, 47 

Women , power , and pol icy , Schafter, 26 
working class, 10 

X, Malcolm, 38 

Zandy, Janet, 6, 24 



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